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What would Buddha do?

Buddha in the sky with diamonds

Several years ago, attending a Jimmy Buffet concert with a Catholic priest (Indian trail, NC, not Margaritaville) , we were discussing ways to raise money for his new parish. In neighboring Georgia a woman was drawing huge crowds claiming to see incarnations of the Virgin Mary. So, we laughingly concocted a never-to-be scheme that involved catching and releasing a trout on the church property that we would say bore some saint’s likeness on its its tail. We would then put donation baskets all up and down the creek. It was sacrilegious, but damned funny anyway.

A few years later I visited Shingo, Japan where they claim to have Christ and his brother buried on a hill above town. Jesus, according to local mythology, let his brother take his place on the cross and then went to rural Japan and retired to a happily married life in the sticks. Surprisingly, there was no marketing involved anywhere near the grave site.

Please bear with me as this all comes together for you in the usual intuitive flash at the end…

I just read a delightful book first printed in 1999 entitled What would Buddha Do? by Franz Metcalf. The pocket-sized tome is rife with well thought out answers to a host of everyday questions, some that made me laugh out loud:

1. What would Buddha do if his credit cards are maxed out?

2. What would Buddha do when making a salad?

3. What would Buddha do to avoid burnout?

4. What would Buddha do about trusting the media?

The answer to last question can be found in the Buddhist writing Undanavarga 22.17: “One’s ears hear a lot; one’s eyes sees a lot. The wise should not believe everything seen or heard.” Buddha must read the China Daily too, where I found the picture above. It seems Buddha hung around for about an hour on Heibei’s Zushan Mountain, but unlike the manifestations in Georgia, he didn’t impart any wisdom to the local tourists.

In another book I reviewed recently, One Couple, Two Cultures, there was a story about a British man and his Chinese wife discussing behavior common in each other’s country. The wife seemed to have no trouble commenting on behalf of the entire 1.3 billion residents of China, while the Brit’ demured on speaking for the whole of England. I can with absolute certainty say that had the Buddha appeared in Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, that every redneck (remember before you shoot that my father hailed from Harlan County, Kentucky), instead of burning him as a heretic would have tried to sell him on Ebay. I still remember the eerie glow-in-the-dark St. Joseph that watched over me as a child sleeping in the dark.

Now I’m not sure what made them think it was Buddha and not Mother Theresa, Confucius, or Steve Irwin. But I continue to digress…

What surprised me the most is that nobody is now selling watches of Buddha waving from the peak or claiming to have private chats with Gautama himself. Another missed marketing opportunity for China. David and I are thinking about sorting through seaweed potato chips until we come up with  some that look like Sun Yat Sen or Lao Zi. We promise to donate all proceeds (and extra chips) to charity.

So what would Buddha do if Buddha were alive today? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be standing around in the Heibei fog, though he might possible blog a few meditations–using a wordpress platform, of course. So I’m off to see if WWBD-in-canton.com is taken. This way, we can answer the pressing questions like:

1. What would Buddha do if someone stole a taxi out from under his nose?

2. What would Buddha do if someone took the food from his plate at a Cantonese buffet?

3. What would Buddha do if he found out he were watching a bootleg copy of Seven Years in Tibet?

4. What would Buddha say if his disciples kept commenting on his weight and skin color?

Now I’m getting ready to read Metcalf’s answer to “What would Buddha Do about that Coffee Habit?” If this post isn’t a call for my spiritual rehab or caffeine detox, I don’t know what is.

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Dying to win in Macau….

macau gambling

Simon Montlake wrote recently in the Christian Science Monitor about Macau’s “exhilarating” growth of late. Imagine yourself in a town where the GDP rose 17 percent last year and the law mandated that the highest paying of the thousands of new jobs must go to you, a local resident. Desperate casinos are hiring college students before graduation and they are easy to spot as they doze off even in the midst of exams.

One the face of it Macau, with salaries 3-6 times higher on average than the mainland, has re-nationalized and re-located the American Dream Eastward. And land values have increased some 30% this year and restaurants and service sector shops are packed most days.

But, there is life in the darkness beneath the fresh sod of success: Thousands of illegal aliens, mostly Filipino domestic helpers, Chinese mainland construction workers and Russian showgirls and prostitutes, work for under- the-table pay while living in overcrowded apartments. For every undocumented worker deported there are dozens, from the over 200 million migrant workers creating China’s new skyline, waiting to take their place. And there is no shortage of employers desperate to fill critical shortages or other local needs who are willing to bend the rules for a profit.

Last week a man from Wuhan in Hubei province, reportedly despondent over gambling losses, jumped to his death from a terrace inside the Sands Casino. He landed amid players queueing up for a free million HK dollar pull on a house slot machine. The Sands, who made profits staggering enough to pay off all their debts in only a few months, is building a new 3,000-room Venetian Macau at a cost of $2.3 billion and will likely retire that debt in record time. Mainlanders lose the money that comprises more than 60% of the revenue that has already outstripped the take of Las Vegas. Changes in anti-gambling Beijing’s hands off policy could affect the country’s bottom line and leave a populous, vocationally training to need gaming demands, without a fall-back plan. (Like my Irish mom, who likely spoke Yiddish in a previous life, “You need something to fall back on,” but….

It is not the first time someone has taken their own life after yielding to gambling urges and the mainland authorities, this time, have taken some token measures to curb addiction: Visas issuance, according to an official source in Guangzhou, have been limited in number due to the recent suicide. While I am sure this will do little to stem the tide of players it may be a warning shot fired at the captains of greed steering Macau into waters dependent on the very people Macau scorns with governmental controls. It may well cut down on monetary traffic for the upcoming Golden Week holiday.

The increase in real estate prices has taken place despite a huge surplus of available rental space. Thousand of high-end dwellings are gather dust on their price tags as the asking price is far too steep even for most newly affluent Macanese. Affordable housing for newcomers and is hard to come by and the 9-10 Macanese and Hong Kong families that control the bulk of Macau’s property holdings. The rampant land speculation is making decent housing unaffordable.

In an effort to slow real estate speculation the Macau government abruptly stopped its program that allowed outsiders to invest in homes and then qualify for citizenship. Of course, only non-Chinese qualified anyway unless mainlanders bought a passport from an African, Carribean or South American country selling citizenship. Now, many mainlanders are out the cost of an apartment and a fresh nationality. And real estate developers selling space in dozens of new luxury high-rises are owed millions in unpaid commissions now that the lure is gone. What is most troubling is: the new policy does not look like it will lower prices as the moguls have plenty of cash to park in land holdings while betting on the come of outside cash.

Macau has already surpassed Hong Kong as the top tourist destination in the area, but a quick search for the number of people checking on line for lodging in the area shows Macau getting 2/3 less look-ups. Macau is a Gambling Disneyland and good for a day trip, but not a vacation destination.

The homey, cheap places to eat are giving way to gourmet fare at tourist prices as local restaurateurs cannot afford the rent or compete for service workers with the casinos. The Sands starts their toilet attendants at a salary twice that of a mainland college teacher. Area entertainment magazines, paid for by casino ads, laud the explosion of new chefs and high-dollar meals, but the young, and the low-budget, daytripping retired folks think otherwise.

Right now, Macau is a safe bet for locals. But, as always, for someone to win at the tables, someone else must lose.

China Business,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Chinese Festivals,Confucius Slept Here,Holidays,In the news,Macau,Personal Notes,Travel in China,中国

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BONSAI AND THE CHINESE ART OF PENJING (盆景)

I volunteered last year to assist one of my students in obtaining a summer job: I told him if he landed the gig as translator for an International book on Bonsai and Penjing, that I would help him at no cost. After the first 300 pages and bits of poetry I was asking, “What the hell was I thinking?” Then after visiting a Penjing garden in Foshan and studying ther works included in the book on Gold Ribbon awarded Penjing and their creators from around the world, I was glad I had signed on.

BONSAI PEJING

At the risk of sounding prosaic I have to say: I do learn something new every day.The

book, finally finished and due out soon, led me to discover that the Japanese Bonsai artistry that we find so appealing is an ancient knock-off of the Chinese art of Penjing (pronounced PUN-JING) that dates back hundreds of years. In fact, the first potted plant known to have been used in China has an ancestry going back some 7,000 years.

Penjing is the Chinese art of creating a miniature landscape in a container. The word consists of the two characters shown on the left: “pen” – “pot” or “container”, and “jing” – “scenery”. An artist may use plant material and natural stone to build artistic compositions.

“Bonsai” literally means a “tree in a pot” (Mr. Miyagi just winced in heaven) though some of the “pots” can costs tens of thousands of dollars. The first historical records of this art form in China comes via paintings recovered from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the more elaborate creations, ones that would be prize winners even today, are found in pictures from the Song (960-1279) Dynasty.

It is assumed Japan caught the fever about the 13th century. The exact time during which Penjing reached Japanese shores is not known. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Japan sent envoys to China to study art, architecture, language, literature, philosophy and law. Chan, a form of Buddhism in which the original Indian teachings blended with Taoism was introduced to Japan a bit later and named “Zen” Buddhism. Penjing and Bonsai are Zen-like methods of achieving an active state of meditation that can reveal natural truth, beauty and harmony.

Not far from here in Foshan, Chin, where I helped with the book, the Sixth Flower Fair will take place in a couple of years. The Chinese call it the Flower Olympics as it only happens every four years and draws invited guests from over 15 countries.

One million people viewed the last exhibition in 2006. It is my guess that it will still be a while before the US National Arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum hits that milestone.

I, and capable editor David DeGeest (who I roped into helping), are both richer for the experience, but my student owes us a couple of dinners and me a new set of reading glasses!!

American Poet in China,Asia,Bonsai,Chinese Festivals,Foshan China,Japan,past posts,Penjing,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,中国

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Your China Lantern Day Riddle…

Lantern Festival

According to Wikipedia and my all-knowing friend Ar-Yang: The lantern festival was once a day for love and matchmaking. It was one of the few nights in ancient China that you could violate strict curfew laws–though with a chaperone. Young people carried bright lanterns (brightness equalled luck and hope) and went on a love quest often aided by professional matchmakers.

Lantern riddles were usually printed on the surface of lanterns for people to guess while enjoying Lantern Festival displays. The key to the riddle may often be found in a single word, a line taken from a poem, the name of a place or an object. Since, according to lore, the riddles can be as hard to solve as a tiger is to capture, they have been nicknamed “lantern tigers”.

Below please find your lantern tiger riddle. The prize for the right answer (more than one right answer and we draw out of a hat) and for the funniest answer is a 2GB credit card USB!!

Have fun….

chinese-lantern.jpg

Asia,Asian Women,Chinese Festivals,中国

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